In lieu of releasing another 12 songs in a traditional record format, Kansas City punk rockers The Architects have released an album that is as engaging as it is unconventional. Last month, the band released Border Wars: Episode One, the first installment of a five-part comic book/EP series. MEB staffer Mike Llerena spoke with singer/guitarist Brandon Phillips about how the album and its novel concept came about.
MEB: In the album’s introduction, you describe Border Wars as a concept album in which the book and the music tell the story together. Can you tell us more about how this idea came about? Why did you want to choose a different medium to convey your music?
Brandon Phillips: We had already started writing some songs and we had some ideas about what we wanted to do, but we hadn’t talked about this concept at all. I asked, “Is anybody excited about the idea of recording 12 or 15 new songs and putting them on a disc and calling it an album? Does that sound kick-ass to anybody?” And everybody said, “No, that sounds lame. It’s been done before.” Not only have we done it several times, but it’s also become this default position of how it’s done. And in this day and age, that seems like a pretty weak default position.
That got us started on the idea of tearing apart the album format. Let’s deconstruct it a little bit to make it in such a place that we can be excited about it again. The other thing was to do something broader than just songs on an album. To end up embracing the Border Wars concept, we thought we should definitely have characters. We should definitely [have] a long-form narrative. And we should break this up into episodes… because I love episodes. And I kind of had to assume that everybody else does too.
What challenges or new opportunities did the comic book album process give the band? What were some new things you experienced during the writing and recording process?
The challenges of trying to put an album/comic series together are numerous. There’s no way in the world that this would be worth it if you didn’t love what the comic was all about, if you didn’t love the music. It’s incredibly complicated. Even the logistics of getting your stuff manufactured is unbelievably daunting.
The opportunities are really cool. We get to collaborate with an awesome illustrator, which is really fun. We get to kind of live out a fantasy that’s usually reserved for bands of a much greater stature. You’d usually have to be Pink Floyd, The Who, Green Day or Prince or something to be able to combine visual, narrative and music all in one thing. That’s maybe the most fun part of it to me. We can do anything we want. Nobody can tell us what to do at all.
In order to help fund Border Wars, you guys started and successfully completed an Indiegogo campaign. What are your thoughts on the role Indiegogo, Kickstarter and other sites play in helping today’s independent bands produce their music? Does this have a sizable impact on today’s music industry?
I think they definitely could have a big impact on the industry. There could be a lot more artists or bands like us who wouldn’t have to [go] begging door to door in the industry like, “Hey, listen to my demo.” We can just go straight to the people who are already into the band. And we can say, “Do you guys want another album? If you’re into it, we can make another album.” Without Indiegogo, we probably would not be freed up to be as unorthodox as we’ve been with this record and with this whole concept.
I think there will probably be some bands who abuse it. There’s already stories of people who have no business crowd-funding anything who are trying to crowd-fund stuff. But I think that’s just because it’s something new and there’s not really a sense of what the rules are yet.
In the Indiegogo campaign video, you talked about how much appreciation you guys have for your fans and how Border Wars was a way of doing something cool for them. Have you received a lot of positive reception from fans since Border Wars: Episode One was released?
We’ve seen a really awesome response. Fortunately, a lot of people embraced the idea. A lot of our fans are like us. They thought that an episodic album would be pretty cool. I’ve heard from a bunch of people who are really happy with Episode One.
I’m looking forward to the time around Episode 2 and Episode 3. In my mind, that’s really going to be the trial by fire – to see what characters people end up enjoying the most. Are people going to love my villain as much as I love my villain? Are people going to sympathize with this character or that character? I’m really looking forward to that. That’s when I expect people are going to make a decision whether they’re in this for the long haul.
What can fans expect from the remaining four episodes of Border Wars?
The band is committed to excellence on this one. We want to blow people’s hair back every single time. We’re not going to keep repeating ourselves as far as the way Episode One works as a narrative or the way we sequenced those songs together. There’s a bunch of different types of songs spread out over the whole arc of the project. Hopefully, we’ll be able to throw some tricky pitches, but maintain a standard of kicking ass throughout the whole thing.
You can stream Border Wars: Episode One here.